UMass delegation returns from dual-purpose trip to Cuba

Three University of Massachusetts Amherst faculty members recently returned from a journey to the Congreso Universidad Cuban International Education Conference, known as the “Congreso,” to plan future academic partnerships.

The faculty members included Dean Marjorie Aelion of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, Stacy Lutsch and Cristina Sosa, both of the International Programs Office. Their trip spanned from Feb. 11 to 17.

One reason for this travel was to attend the Congreso, which was frequented by not only other American universities such as Rutgers, the University of California San Diego and the University of Richmond, but also, according to Sosa, “a lot of Latin American universities, European, African, the Caribbean.” Sosa added, “[It] was great talking to colleagues from all over, and they’re… not just people from the education abroad office but… rectors at a very high level.”

The other and more pertinent reason for the UMass delegation’s journey was to finalize a scheduled semester-long study abroad opportunity in Cuba for public health majors. According to Lutsch, “Through the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and the International Programs Office [the study abroad program in Cuba] has been developing for quite some time now. I’d say first initial conversations were in 2015, to give you an idea of how long it takes to get a program off the ground.”

However, Lutsch added, “It was indeed actually scheduled to run this fall semester, so Fall 2017, but between Hurricane Irma and Maria hitting the island we decided to cancel and postpone it to Spring 2019 when hopefully we’re out of hurricane season.” She mentioned that of the cohort of 14 students set to have traveled, “six ended up studying abroad on another program.”

To some it may seem unlikely to think of Cuba as a destination for the study of public health, but according Dean Aelion, “Cuba has really been at the forefront of community based health and health promotion which is what we do as professionals in the field of public health; versus the medical side where it’s treatment of the individual. So I think it’s a great opportunity for our students to see how another country has approached the field of public health in delivering services to prevent illness and disease to keep people healthy.”

Aelion admitted she even had the opportunity to see this firsthand when a young man injured himself. “I hated to say it was wonderful to see that in action to have somebody sprain their ankle and be hurt playing soccer, but it also was very reassuring to me, to actually get a good sense of both again the people taking care of the students [and] the homestays, which are with Cuban families,” she said.

Regarding the trip as a whole, Lutsch felt “like we couldn’t have been more welcomed, and like [Sosa] said the flexibility with which high quality universities, very, very good research universities, teaching universities; the flexibility with which they’re willing and open to pursuing any kind of academic relationship with U.S. universities and institutions is impressive.”

“Now more than ever it’s important in regards to education continuing that, because they’re all very scared about the current administration and if it’s going to curtail any of the education initiatives down there,” Sosa said. “Everyone asked, so you know what about Trump?” to which Lutsch supported, “[Cubans] actually do call it the ‘efecto Trump,’ that’s the Spanish term for it, the Trump effect.”

Each of the three faculty members had something to add about the politics involved. Sosa said, “We did have a meeting at the U.S. embassy. [The U.S. doesn’t] have an ambassador anymore, but while we were there we got to meet the new chargé d’affaires, somebody that probably won’t stay in the position very long, and they really were kind of walking lightly about the relations, what they see in the foreseeable future between the U.S. and Cuba.”

Despite this shakiness in the politics, the trio were not inhibited from obtaining visas. Lutsch said, “Fortunately what we’ve seen is that the kind of travel we’re doing and the kind of travel our students would be doing, that purely educational travel…again touch wood, has yet to be impacted by recent Trump restrictions and administrative restrictions. We keep a very close eye on it though.”

Aelion also commented on the accessibility of travel to the island nation, stating, “It’s funny because some people in the group we were with had been to Cuba two years ago and that was the only time they had been there, so for that group, they saw that it was more difficult now. For me, having been there in 2011, it was easier this time. There are U.S. carriers now that fly to Cuba. So we took JetBlue, other people took Delta, direct flights from Atlanta. So, in the bigger picture we’ve definitely been taking steps in the right direction in terms of increasing exchanges.”

Sosa is a Cuban-American herself and was born on the island. She left at the age of eight in 1961, and her family members (along with many others) were labeled “gusanos” (the Spanish word for “worms”) by the Castro regime for leaving. However, she still holds out hope for her home country despite this.

Sosa mentioned that while in Cuba, “Interestingly, this woman who I was speaking with…she said to me, you know, ‘I am a communist, my family, they’re all communists.’ but she said, ‘Castro’s government made many mistakes in the beginning especially calling all of you, you know, like worms.’ You know they’re feeling more comfortable in speaking out against the government, which before that wasn’t the case.”

Sosa further explained this increasing liberalization and hospitality of modern day Cuba by stating, “this is the third time back [for me] so every time I just find it a little more welcoming and more things happening in regards to private enterprise and the universities themselves at this congress, they were so willing to like have any type of program” and, “Definitely more things are happening with the youth, you see a lot of the young people on the streets with their smartphones, trying to get Wifi.”

Nevertheless, Sosa’s approach remained grounded. She said, “Those are things that are still very controlled by the state and Wifi is sketchy,” and “markets are very bare and they get things sporadically and when they do [arrive] you want to be there to get something.”

The trio concluded that their experience was a success amongst the delegations of global universities in attendance at the Congreso.

In a parting statement by Lutsch, she summarized the matter succinctly.

“Everyone was pursuing sort of the project that made most sense for their institution. So I think my takeaway is that there’s no one-size-fits-all to approaching Cuba, especially in terms of education and educational programming, but there is the flexibility and the willingness to accommodate a lot of those different approaches,” she said.

  • Published in Cuba

Did the CIA Sabotage Russia at the Olympics?

It makes no logical sense that an athlete would do a one-time consumption of a chemical that is of no value in circumstances where it is almost certain to be detected with huge negative consequences.

That is precisely the situation. The Russian Mixed Curling bronze medal winner, Alexander Krushelnitsky, had to give up his medal, plus that of his partner wife, because traces of meldonium were found in his urine sample. He had previously tested clean. Meldonium is a medication which helps keep the heart healthy by increasing blood flow. That would be of no benefit in a sport like curling which requires accuracy, strategy and focus but is not taxing physically. The “sweeping” to help guide the rock down the ice lasts only 20 seconds or less. International curlers were astounded at the news and bemused at the idea of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) for curling. The skip of the Danish curling team said ”I think most people will laugh and ask, ‘what could you possibly need doping for?”

Image result for Alexander Krushelnitzky

Krushelnitsky (image on the right) strongly denies taking banned drugs.

“I am categorically opposed to doping …. never, at any time that I have been involved in sport, have I ever used prohibited substances”.

Similar curious circumstances apply in the second ADRV.  Russian bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva had numerous negative (clean) tests before she was tested positive for banned trimetazidine.  Bobsledding is another sport which requires physical and mental skill but not physical endurance.

In the February 25 IOC meeting to close the Peyongchang Winter Games, the head of the IOC Implementation Group, Nicole Hoevertz, said the Russian athletes had been tested “more than any other athletes”. She and her group were convinced that the 168 member Russian athletic team was clean. At about 35:00 in the video, she says the two Russian doping violations were “very peculiar.” She introduced the Director of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission, Dr. Bludgett, to provide more detail. He suggested that meldonium would not be of benefit in curling. He then went further and suggested the ADRV regarding trimetazidine may be in error. He said trimetazidine “is a substance where there is a parent compound which is a common headache migraine treatment available particularly in China and Japan and if that is found then it is not considered an ADRV. And if there is a very low level, as there was in this case, that is a possibility.”

Image result for Nadezhda Sergeeva

Sergeeva (image on the left) denies ever taking banned drugs and even went on social media
with a T-shirt declaring her commitment to clean sport.

In summary, it seems highly unlikely that two different Russian athletes would intentionally take medications that have no benefit but which are almost guaranteed to be detected resulting in huge harm to them and their team.

Who Benefits?

Another possibility is that meldonium or trimetazidine powder was surreptitiously put in the food of the athletes. This one time consumption would cause a positive test.

In fact there are forces on the international scene who are pleased that Russia has been battling defamation and charges of “state sponsored doping” for the past two years. They want the current denigration and punishments of Russia to continue, perhaps influencing Russia’s upcoming national election and undermining Russia’s hosting of the Football World Cup this summer.

One such group is the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA has a long history of big and small criminal deeds. Presumably it would not be difficult for them to infiltrate Olympic facilities or bribe a corrupt individual to put traces of meldonium or another powder in someone’s food or drink.

Those who quickly dismiss this possibility probably also thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2002. That was a false claim supported by evidence fabricated by the CIA.

It is well documented the CIA carries out murders, coups and major sabotage. The CIA has documented some of their methods in “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception”. They don’t just carry out assassinations and coups. In the book “In Search of Enemies”, former CIA officer John Stockwell documented how the CIA created a false story about Cuban soldiers raping Angolan women to defame Cuba.

Corrupt police forces sometimes plant evidence on a suspect they wish to convict. It would be essentially the same thing to get a Russian athlete to ingest spiked food or beverage. The CIA has motive and expressed intent:

  • In contrast with Russian leaders who call the US a “partner”, US officials increasingly call Russia an “adversary”. The latest US National Security Strategy explicitly says they intend to respond to Russia as an adversary: “ The United States will respond to the growing political, economic and military competitions we face around the world. China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.”

  • Despite the lack of clear evidence, there is widespread belief that Russia “meddled” in the US election. The anti-Russia sentiment has been fanned into the exaggerated claim that the unproven Russian action was “an act of war, an act of hybrid warfare”.
  • Neoconservatives forces openly talk about “punishing” Russia. The former Deputy Director of the CIA, Michael Morrell, said “We need to make the Russians pay a price” . He confirmed on public television that means killing Russians (and Iranians) in Syria. This is the 33 year veteran CIA leader who publicly campaigned for Hillary Clinton.

Did the CIA plant the doping evidence? We don’t know for certain but it should not be dismissed out of hand. The CIA has the means, opportunity and above all the motive to falsely implicate Russians in new doping cases with the goal of preventing Russia from getting beyond the international sporting sanctions and punishments.  They have done vastly more deceitful, manipulative, and outrageous things than this.

Media Bias

Unfortunately, western media will not investigate this possibility. Western media cannot even accurately report on events like the IOC meeting yesterday. The fact that the head of the IOC Implementation Group warmly praised the Russian participation at the Peyongchang Olympics is not mentioned in western media. The fact that Dr. Bludgett raised questions about the accuracy of the ADRVs against Russia is not mentioned in reports from NY Times, the UK Guardian or Inside the Games. Instead, the writer at Inside the Games once again exaggerated the voice of critics of Russia as he downplayed the voices of international athletes who want to put the doping scandal behind and move forward.

Western media have reported deceptively that the Russian athletes have “admitted” to the violations. In fact, both Russian athletes strongly deny taking banned drugs.

Western media bias is also shown in the focus on alleged Russian doping and minimization or ignoring of other possible violations. For example the story about the Norwegian cross-country ski team and their use of banned asthmatic medications. They get around the restrictions by having their doctor claim that most of their athletes are asthmatic. This situation is a result of the inconsistent rules and regulations. A Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)  can be given to any athlete designated by a doctor and in secrecy. They are not required to publicly disclose this, giving incentive to corruption and misuse.

Richard McLaren’s Bias

Image result for wada richard mclaren

The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has also been biased. Over one year ago, their investigator Richard McLaren (image on the right) claimed “over one thousand Russian athletes benefited” from the alleged Russian conspiracy to cheat the ant-doping system. McLaren said the proof would be provided to the various sport federations. In September 2017 it was revealed that charges had been filed against 96 athletes. Of these, WADA cleared 95 athletes of wrongdoing; only one athlete was proven to be in violation. More recently, the Court of Arbitration in Sport completely overturned the bans on 28 Russian athletes. In summary, it appears that McLaren’s accusation about “over one thousand athletes benefiting” was a huge exaggeration or fabrication.

Where Do Things Go From Here?

The IOC Executive Board has indicated they intend to lift the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee if no more “anti doping rule violations” are found in the last batch of athlete samples from the Peyongchang Olympics. The results are expected in a few days.

Another ADRV may appear. If so, that will greatly complicate the effort to reintegrate Russian athletics. Even if the final tests are all clean, those who oppose Russia will continue trying to delay or prevent the full integration of Russia within the world sporting Community.

The former Moscow Laboratory Director Grigory Rodchenkov is the primary weapon in the campaign accusing Russia of “state sponsored doping”. “Icarus” is a movie about him which has received huge funding and promotion. It is nominated for an an Oscar Academy award. This will serve the campaign well.

The Russian have been accused of trying to murder Rodchenkov  But if he suddenly dies one day, it is more likely to be by the CIA.  At this point, Rodchenkov has done all the damage he can to Russian sports. The only thing he could possibly do is to recant or fall apart. His handlers have prevented him from appearing before the various committees looking into the accusations. At this point, Rodchenkov could be more valuable dead than alive. His death would be a powerful weapon to disrupt the normalization of relations with Russia.

In conclusion, going back to the Peyonchang Olympics, there should be caution before assuming the guilt of the Russian athletes who received ADRVs. It makes no sense that two Russian athletes would take useless medications knowing they will be tested and found out.

The doping incident serves the interests of those in the West who seek more not less conflict and seek to weaken Russia through “hybrid” warfare. It is possible the CIA has a hand in the latest incidents, just as they have a hand in Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. They have the means, opportunity and motive. They have the experience and history.

If this is true, it’s another example of the dangerous descent in international relations. The Olympics movement has the goal of fostering peaceful relations. The sad truth is there are forces who want to prevent that. They prefer to demonize and divide in a quest for economic and geopolitical supremacy over “adversaries”. International sports is just another arena for them.

  • Published in Sports

CUBA - U.S.: Lives waiting for a visa

Despite the restrictions and impact of the blockade, Cuba has developed world class scientific centers. Photo: Fonticoba Gener

CAR T-cell therapy, effective against several types of cancer, can make a life and death difference for patients in critical condition. The United States is a leader in the field, and only a few developed countries have the technology to provide it.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) awarded a fellowship to Darel Martínez, a specialist at Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM), to learn about the treatment at an internationally recognized center in the United States.

"The objective was to begin a project to generate CAR T-cells in Cuba and establish collaboration with the leading groups in this arena," the 35 year-old PhD biologist, who studied at the University of Havana, told Granma.

Martínez was set to travel to the United States last October, but the suspension of U.S. consular services in Cuba has prevented him from obtaining the necessary scientific collaboration visa.

Based on an unfounded and scientifically implausible pretext, this past September the State Department withdrew the majority of its diplomatic staff in Cuba and almost completely suspended the issuing of visas, with the exception of those for officials or diplomats. At the same time, the U.S. demanded that 17 Cuban staff members at the Cuban mission in Washington leave the country.

After three months of investigations, U.S. authorities themselves acknowledged that there is no evidence to substantiate "sonic attacks" on diplomats in Havana, the alleged reason for these drastic steps.

Nevertheless, the unjustified, unilateral measures remain in place, negatively affecting academic, scientific, sports, cultural, and family exchanges.

"CAR T-cell therapy is one of the most novel and costly to fight cancer. Thus far, it has had great results in cases of leukemia," the Cuban scientist stated.

The benefits for Cuba, he explains, would be introducing the platform and with that the products, which have already been registered here, as well as the possibility of developing others based on the country's experience in treating cancer.

"While for the American side, they could benefit from the CIM's experience in the production of monoclonal antibodies, which are necessary for the generation of

CAR T-cells," he noted.

Martínez recalls that the Trump administration's decision to suspend the issuing of visas arrived precisely when he had just submitted his paperwork to the U.S. embassy in Havana, "Instead of starting in October, we're still struggling to get the collaboration going."

In accordance with the new procedure established by the United States, Cubans interested in applying for a non-immigrant visa - a J1 in the case of Martínez, for scientific collaboration - can be processed in any U.S. consulate anywhere in the world, except Havana.

The Cuban scientist was obliged to notify his U.S. counterparts of the situation, who were in turn forced to incur extra expenses to complete the visa process in another country. All this with no guarantee that the visa will in fact be granted.

"They were wiling to cover these costs, which, of course means spending money that could have been used to finance my work or that of other persons," Martínez commented.

His case is not unique and the impact has been felt in other sectors, including culture and sports.

Seven Cuban athletes were not able to attend the World Weightlifting Championship in Anaheim, held last year, as a result of the suspension of consular services here.

Likewise, the uncertainty generated by the U.S. government's unjustified warning on travel to Cuba, one of the safest countries in the world, has affected visits by collaborators to the island.

Several scientists were scheduled to visit the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK), one of Cuba's most prestigious scientific centers, but cancelled their plans under pressure from U.S. authorities.

The Trump administration has "probably closed the door" on many Cuba-U.S. joint projects, according to John Van Horn, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

The scientists from the U.S. were interested in the IPK's research on arboviruses, pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes that include Zika, Chikungunya, and dengue.

The U.S. National Institute of Health had even approved, this past June, four grants of up to 50,000 USD each, to support these projects. Nevertheless, the new circumstances obliged them to cancel the financial help, because of "difficulties with getting the money to Cuba."

"By affecting the functioning of both (embassies), exchanges of all kinds between Cuba and the United States are being affected, be they cultural, sports-related, or scientific, but also family interactions and relations," said Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal recently.

Despite the restrictions and impact of the blockade, Cuba has world class scientific centers and has produced its own medical treatments, largely unavailable in other undeveloped countries.

Among its most significant accomplishments, Cuba now cures 80% of children with leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. Likewise, it was the first country to be certified by the World Health Organization as having eliminated mother-infant transmission of HIV and syphilis.

  • Published in Specials

Raul Castro receives US lawmakers on visit to Cuba

Cuban President Raul Castro received a bipartisan delegation of US lawmakers, who are visiting the island with the alleged "acoustic attacks" against US diplomats on their agenda.

"During the meeting they discussed matters of interest to both countries," the Cuban government said in a statement.

The delegation, led by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, arrived in Cuba Sunday to address various issues including the mysterious supposed attacks in Havana.

The issue has hit US-Cuba relations, with Washington withdrawing half of its diplomats from Cuba and expelling 15 officials from the Cuban embassy in the US capital.

The Cuban foreign ministry's US director, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, met with the congressmen Monday assuring them that "no evidence that attacks occurred against US diplomats in Cuba exists," according to his deputy Johana Tablada.

Accompanying Leahy on the visit are senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Michigan's Gary Peters, along with representatives Kathy Castor of Florida, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Susan Davis of California.

Leahy has been one of the most active politicians inside the Capitol in advocating the improvement of US-Cuba relations, which defrosted somewhat in 2014 under Barack Obama after half a century of tension.

The US delegation will end its stay in Cuba on Wednesday with a press conference.

At least 24 Americans, a mix of US embassy personnel and their dependents -- suffered headaches, hearing loss, disorientation and some loss of cognitive ability between November 2016 and August 2017.

Some recovered from the most acute symptoms, but the severity, range and recovery time was mixed and it's not yet clear whether any have suffered permanent injury.

US press reports suggest that FBI agents dispatched to Havana have been unable to find any evidence to support a theory that the staff were attacked with an acoustic or sonic weapon.

  • Published in Cuba

Cuba Prepares For March 11 Elections

Cubas 24,470 polling stations will be administered by more than 200,000 polling stations for the country's March 11 national elections. 

Cuba is assuring the quality and transparency of its upcoming elections by training some 200,000 people to administer the over 24,000 polling stations where voting will take place March 11.

US Congressmen Arrive in Cuba to Address 'Sonic Attacks'

In total, there will be 24,470 polls set up throughout the country for citizens to cast their ballots, 141 of which will be set up to attend to an above average quantity of voters. 

National Electoral Commission spokesperson, Marina Capo Ribalra, says the stations will include full lists of candidates, ballots and computer equipment to facilitate people's voting.

Cuba's 8 million people will vote for 605 national parliamentary delegates and 1,265 representatives to represent its 15 provinces in the Popular Power Assembly. 

The country's current parliament has the world's largest number of women representatives. Candidates for this parliamentary cycle are over 40 percent mestizo or Black. 

Cuba's newest president will later be elected by a parliamentary committee.

  • Published in Cuba

St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

The 2017 St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race was celebrated as more than a competitive regatta to Cuba’s capital city of Havana.

The relaunch of the maritime competition cancelled since 1959 was hailed as a reflection of the detente started under President Barack Obama.

The event returns for a second consecutive year on Feb. 26 and again mirrors the political climate, but on the opposite end of the spectrum.

More than 70 vessels competed in last year’s event.

This year, 20 will start the journey, beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and ending 278 miles later at Havana’s Marina Hemingway.

"We were hoping for more but the political scene caused by our president impacts what happens," said George Pennington, race chairman and regatta general of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club that hosts the race.

No policy has been passed forbidding Americans from participating in athletic competitions in Cuba, under which the regatta falls. But relations are more strained under President Donald Trump than his predecessor.

For instance, Trump has banned Americans from staying at hotels managed by the Cuban government, a decision limiting lodging options in a nation where the armed forces control up to 70 percent of the tourism industry.

Plus, the State Department issued a travel warning on Cuba due to the mysterious health attacks against American diplomats in Havana.

These decrees coupled with the Trump’s harsh words for the former Cold War enemy, according to leaders in the Cuba travel industry, have been enough to diminish the number of Americans visiting the island in recent months.

The "new approach of the Trump administration to U.S.-Cuba policy based on rumors and unproven accusations" has created enough confusion and fear to chase away boaters, said Vicente Amor, Cuba-born vice president of the Tampa travel company ASC International USA working with the yacht race.

Those "accusations" to which he referred are the health attacks. Amor is among those who believes the Cuban government’s assertion that they did not target the American government workers.

Tony Barrett, one of 11 captains who competed in 2017 and will do so again this year, admits politics likely played a role for some who won’t return. But not, he said, in all cases.

That the 2017 race was the first since 1959 likely drew increased interest from those who were not avid racers but rather just wanted to be part of history, said Barrett, who will helm the 33-foot Soverel yacht named Back Off.

"They could have lined up 150 last year if they allowed it," he said.

He predicts that in time the race will average 30 to 40 yachts like other local distance races. St. Petersburg’s 50th Regata del Sol al Sol to Mexico’s Isla Mujeres held this April, for instance, currently has 30 entrants.

Regardless, chairman Pennington promised the Havana race will be back next year, though "cannot state in what format it will be."

Due to the lighter lineup, competition classes will be limited to spinnaker and cruising. In 2017, there were also non-spinnaker and multi-hauling classes.

Politics has a history of affecting local yacht races to Cuba.

The first St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race in 1930 featured 11 boats and was meant to be a promotional event to help St. Petersburg recover from the Great Depression. It grew to include more than 30 vessels a year and succeeded in bringing international acclaim to the city. But the contest was canceled after the rise of communism in Cuba.

From the late 1990s through the early 2000s, a different race known as the Havana Cup was run from St. Petersburg to Havana and drew more than 200 vessels each year. But that was cancelled when — under political pressure from hardline members of the exile community — the U.S. government issued cease-and-desist orders to the event’s organizers.

Among the regular entrants in the Havana Cup was Barrett, who said that during those trips he made friends in Cuba. But it was not until last year when the St. Petersburg-Habana Race returned that he went back to the island.

While there, he stopped at a restaurant he once frequented and whose owner was a friend. Despite it being 16 years since Barrett last ate there, the owner recognized him and called common friends to join them for drinks.

"We were a little grayer, but it felt like we’d never missed a day," Barrett said. "The people in Cuba are so friendly. I can never get over that."

  • Published in Sports

U.S.’s ‘Cuba Internet Task Force’ exposed as attack on Cuban sovereignty

Washington, D.C. — This Workers World reporter was able to intervene in favor of socialist Cuba as the new Cuba Internet Task Force held its inaugural public meeting on Feb. 7 in the U.S. State Department headquarters here.

The task force’s conclusions are set up to promote the same violations of Cuba’s sovereignty practiced since Cuban revolutionaries toppled the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in 1959.

Those U.S. tactics, aimed at regime change, have failed. The mission description of the State Department’s task force admits its goals in euphemistic language: “The task force will examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba including through [U.S.] federal government support of programs and activities that encourage freedom of expression through independent media and internet freedom.” This means the U.S. aims to encourage those hostile to the Cuban government to use the internet for these goals.

It’s no surprise the U.S. Agency for Inter­national Development sits on the task force. USAID contracted Alan Gross to install military grade covert communication devices in Cuba in 2009. Gross was arrested in December 2009 and spent 5 years of a 15-year sentence in a Cuban prison.

The U.S. government initiated and funded the TV/Radio/Internet propaganda media, given the misappropriated name of Cuba’s national hero, José Martí. This media group has a seat on the task force, as does its oversight agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Initially, 10 slots for 3-minute public comments were planned for the Feb. 7 public meeting. Five speakers of the original 10 opposed the task force objectives and its attack on Cuban sovereignty.

WW reporter speaks at meeting

Besides covering the public meeting, Workers World participated; this reporter’s remarks are published here:

“Even after the last presidential election, Pew Research polls demonstrated that 75 percent of people in the U.S. support diplomatic relations with Cuba and 73 percent support ending the U.S. blockade of Cuba. I am one of them. The statistics hold for Cubans in the U.S., too. One hundred and ninety-one of 193 countries voted to oppose the blockade just last November at the United Nations General Assembly.

“The Federal Register announcement says the purpose of the Cuba Internet Task Force is ‘to examine technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba.’

“Have any of you been to Cuba? When you go, you will see as I have with my own eyes the Cuban people communicating using smartphones at the expanding number of hotspots. They are talking with friends and relatives in the U.S. and other countries. Home internet is beginning. Public notice is given about the plans for reducing internet prices. And the prices really do go down. Cubans use Facebook and Twitter and email.

“In 2009, I was with a group of British union officials in Havana when their cell phone rang — their phones worked in Cuba, but mine did not. Canadian phones worked in Cuba. Now my phone works in Cuba, too. The Cuban telecom company ETECSA has agreements with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and Google. Those agreements became possible when this government — not the Cuban government — this government stopped blocking them.

“After 120 years, the United States must come to grips with the fact that Cuba does not belong to the United States. How is it proper to sit in the U.S. State Department and discuss this matter as though Cuba is not a sovereign country?

“Do you want to assess challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access? Let’s start with my city, Detroit. The FCC reported as recently as 2015 that 40 percent of my city’s residents have no access to the internet. Let’s use the budget for this Task Force and the previous radio/TV and internet regime change projects dreamed up in Washington for infrastructure to bring quality, affordable internet access to all in cities like Detroit and rural areas, too.

“So to improve internet access in Cuba, negotiate with the Cuban government in a respectful and equal way, end the blockade and travel restrictions, and return the occupied Guantánamo territory to the Cuban people.”

  • Published in Cuba
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